Techfolio: A Fine Balance

by Marc Almagro
Photography by Chino Sardea
06 Apr 2017

Marc Dragon’s faith in technology is well-established, but so is his inimitable way of looking after his people

I finally caught up with Marc Dragon, 44, during his photo shoot for this folio, after several days of arranging a meeting, even a brief one, through his PR handler. I explained what we needed from him for this feature, offering a way to manage it with a combination of email interview and flexi-timed shoot.

Dragon, I was told with a hint of apology, was traveling, and although interested to participate, was unable to set a date for a meeting.

Marc Dragon is the CEO of Y3 Technologies, a Singapore-headquartered supply chain management solutions provider to SMEs, enterprises and the government. The organization deploys warehouse management system and transport management system, along with ancillary add-on services, to its customers.

As chief executive, he drives the company’s operation and business growth, while also boosting its strategies and services. An 18-year professional experience, highlighted by leadership roles at IBM, Deloitte Consulting, and big data analytics company Antuit, has prepared him for his current role.

He was understandably busy. But a window suddenly opened up: his handler informed me that Dragon would be in town for the launch of an office in the west (our offices and studio are in the east), and should be able to make it for an hour-long pictorial. After office. At night. Probably late.

It was an opportunity that we were very pleased to grab. His PR representative showed up at the appointed hour, and explained that our man might be running late.

When he finally made it to the studio, Dragon was apologetic but enthusiastic, respectful but funny, and considerate. And while nearly everyone in the room was decompressing at the end of the workday, he remained very switched on.

I wanted to know what kept him going. There has to be a secret somewhere.

“We recently had a Customer Week where we showcased our thought leadership and cutting-edge solutions to clients and business partners,” he told me roughly a week after the pictorial. “My proudest moment was watching the many cross-functional teams, from marketing, analytics, product development, infrastructure, passionately working together to set up the event, making it a great success.” 

Their passion, he surmised, reflected their belief in the Y3 vision, and this gave Dragon the confidence that they have indeed attained a new level in the Y3 transformation journey.

Marc Almagro: You have held important roles throughout your career. What would you call your top three achievements in those roles?

Marc Dragon: I would classify my career into three phases – MNC, start-up, and the growth towards IPO. Out of all the roles I have undertaken during my career, the following are the top 3 achievements that are more qualitative in nature which I would highlight.

One of my more significant achievements was to start a company from ground up, negotiate a carve out for that company, and subsequently to grow that start-up to a size and proposition significant enough for Goldman Sachs to invest into.

Another achievement was the opportunity to get to know, and work with some outstanding individuals who have a shared vision and passion. It is always more fun (and effective) to work with individuals who are highly insightful, and able to execute above and beyond expectations, especially to support the growth of organizations.

Last but not least was to be able to build all these successful businesses with integrity and honour.  I am proud of the value-add that I brought to each of the roles that I have been honoured to allow to perform, both quantitatively and qualitatively, with integrity.

MA:You seem to be traveling a lot – I’ve been talking to your PR trying to set up a meeting. How do you cope?

MD: Juggling work and personal life is an ongoing conscious effort as both my wife and I travel frequently for work. However, we see it as a (family) team effort to manage both our schedules, and I am fortunate to have two boys who are understanding and supportive of us as well. In addition, my wife and I both enjoy spending time together exercising, seeing it as a form of de-stressing from work and life.

MA: You’re young and you did not rise from the ranks within Y3; was that a challenge? And how are you managing that?

MD: It’s always difficult for current employees to have an external leader parachuted to lead the organization, especially when most of the employees have been around far longer than the previous leaders. A fair number of them were skeptical that new leaders would be able to transform Y3 to the extent that it was needed to compete effectively and lead in our industry.

Being trusted with the mantle of leadership, and with an inherent understanding of what was needed to transform Y3, I approached the transformation effort carefully. I knew that I needed to keep as much of the good ‘family’ and ‘team’ culture that was inherent within Y3, yet inject it with a fair amount of new thinking, solutions and R&D, along with high performance capabilities.

Coming into the role, I built a multi-year strategy, a quarterly tactical plan, as well as a 90-day plan, in order to give me clear signposts to progress. 

Communication with employees and my Board was critical to share the vision with all, what was needed to make that vision a reality, as well as to track our progress.

Trust was the other main ingredient as well, and that had to be earned, both by ‘walking-the-talk’ and by value adding to each individual GM. 

Finally, my perspective was that my role was not only to orchestrate the organization to achieve our shared vision, but to also help the individual Business Unit (BU) GMs perform better. That entailed hands-on brainstorming and being involved in major tactical areas to increase the effectiveness of the individual BUs.  

MA: I’m sure you have a number of high-flyers in your organization. How do you keep them engaged and performing well – especially when companies constantly struggle to retain talent? 

MD: Having worked with start-ups and MNCs, I realised that the following traits are key in retaining talent and to move forward as a company.

These traits include the ability to communicate and drive towards a compelling Vision. There’s need for a shared purpose within the organization, and creating a compelling vision for the company. This is a great way to motivate and give directional purpose to the employees.

Another one is developing a defined culture. It is important for leaders to understand the culture within the organization, and to be able to understand how to shape it towards what is needed for the organization to compete and lead

Lastly, there’s servant leadership, which calls for an understanding of the work your employees go through in order to value their contribution to the company. By demonstrating that you understand the effort of your employees, you show an attitude of humility and kindness. Employees will naturally respect a leader who is able to not only demonstrate knowledge but see things from the employees’ point of view.

MA: In your line of work, where do human intelligence and abilities play a dominant role? 

MD: An organization is made up of many different types of individuals, each bringing a unique set of talent and abilities.  While pure intelligence horsepower is required in some areas, and domain knowledge is required in others, it is important for the leader to understand the dynamics and required capabilities within each company/business unit, and to optimize the performance of the unit as a whole, into a High Performance organization.

MA: Let’s talk about Y3 and its growth potential. What will drive growth for the supply chain management industry in the near future?

MD: The supply chain management industry is currently undergoing an exciting transformation, being disrupted by new business models, and having a plethora of new technology areas that can be used as value-generating differentiators.

The companies that will succeed in the next decade will be those that embrace innovative technologies, such as various analytical tools/capabilities, IOT, blockchain, and others, in conjunction with reinventing their respective business models, to create new and differentiating services and capabilities for their clients.

In addition, in Singapore, as mentioned in the recent Budget 2017, the Government will be looking to turn its focus to aiding companies with digitalisation. This will inadvertently mean that companies involved in everything from managing their supply chains, to supply chain service providers, will be accelerating their Digital adoption, especially in Singapore.

MA: Your industry grows on the back of advanced technology. What leading technologies are in place to support the services that Y3 Technologies delivers?

MD:In an era where technology has proven to be the essence of advancement, it is pivotal for businesses to effectively leverage technology not only for operational efficiencies, but more importantly, for differentiation.

Companies still need to ensure their operational processes are handled effectively, supply is matched as closely as possible to demand, and inventory and key assets are tracked and managed productively. That typically means the deployment of transaction management systems such as warehouse management and transport management systems are set to help with those tasks efficiently.

In addition, and more importantly, for companies to thrive in the new era, it becomes critical for them to perform good analysis of demand and supply trends, real-time management of events, utilizing analytics and optimization methods in areas such as Omni-channel/O2O as well as supply chain management. Technologies such as event-driven Control Towers monitoring, Big Data Analytics, IOT, and Blockchain for Supply Chains are now relevant more ever than before.

At Y3, we help companies to navigate these technology solutions, and help them to deploy such solutions to help them manage their operations better, and more importantly, to compete more effectively.

MA: Is Y3 focused on a particular type of clients or sectors? What are the reasons behind this? Do you foresee this focus shifting in the next five years, and if you do, what factors will necessitate such shift?

MD: Our clients are mainly from the retail/e-commerce, consumer goods, and logistics sectors, driving primarily around our focused solution areas such as e-commerce, CRM/loyalty, and supply chain solutions.  These clients cut across from MNCs to SMEs.

In the next five years, I envision deepening our capabilities to service these sectors even more, through both deep collaborations with MNC clients, as well as core R&D capabilities.

Furthermore, we have recently made a big push to provide effective yet affordable solutions to SMEs via a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach. We see SMEs as a space that needs help with good solutions to improve productivity and manpower challenges, and we would like to lead this space in helping them as such.

MA: Shifting economic boundaries, changing regulations, new governments – how are these affecting the delivery of your business? What are you most concerned about among political, social and economic factors that can impact your business in very challenging ways?     

MD: My take is that any change brings new opportunities. It is important to be on the forefront of change, and also help regulators and governments understand not only the implications of policies and regulations on business, but also to share with them the changing Digital and industry landscape, and how they can ride on these transformative changes.